Dateline: November, 2010, Issue 1

Do jurors think sexual harassment by email or in person is worse?

Sexual harassment can occur via electronic media as well as comments made face-to-face.

Berkley and Kaplan (2009) investigated jurors reactions to sexual harassment occurring face-to-face and by email. Jurors were presented a hostile working environment sexual harassment case. The defendant was male and the plaintiff was female. The defendant was the plaintiff's boss.

Different groups of jurors heard about harassment of varying severity. Some jurors were presented plaintiff testimony stating that the defendant told the plaintiff that she looked nice today. Other jurors heard testimony stating that the defendant told the plaintiff that she looked nice today and as hot as a naked woman. Yet another group of jurors heard testimony stating that the defendant told the plaintiff that she looked nice today, would look hot naked, and then propositioned her to have a horizontal good time. Half of each group of jurors was told that the defendant made the statements in an email; the other half was told the statements were made in person.

Jurors were 3.6 times more likely to determine that sexual harassment had occurred when it was communicated by email versus occurring face-to-face, and particularly so for the less severe statements.

The researchers conclude that email sexual harassment is perceived more harshly by jurors than face-to-face sexual harassment.

Source Berkley, R. A., & Kaplan, D. M. (2009). Assessing liability for sexual harassment: Reactions of potential jurors to email versus face-to-face incidents. Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, 21, pp. 195-211.